One evening last month, a small group of Republican lawmakers — all of them women — were summoned to the Roosevelt Room of the White House for a private meeting.
Awaiting the lawmakers was a figure who has no formal role in the administration but is quietly striving to become a policy force: Ivanka Trump. For more than an hour, the women talked about how to advance legislation on child care and family leave. Surrounded by senior White House advisers, Ms. Trump controlled most of the discussion, several attendees said.
The meeting was one of many ways that Ms. Trump has been working with Republicans to advance a policy agenda all her own, one focused on helping young mothers. The effort has placed her in an exceptional, and possibly sticky, position — working on issues traditionally championed by Democrats by forging alliances with Republican women.
In the process, Ms. Trump has quickly gotten an education in the art of the possible in Washington, where efforts on the issues dear to her have been stymied in recent years by partisan disagreements and general inertia.
While Ms. Trump has been a frequent presence in the Trump White House — she has had a place at the table as President Trump has met with diplomats, chief executives and government officials — she is now taking an active role in the fight to reduce the crippling costs of child care. During the campaign, she persuaded her father to make a vow to do just that.
She has gone to Capitol Hill to meet with female lawmakers to discuss child care issues and invited two Republican senators, Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine, to sit at her table at the White House for a lunch this past week to honor women. She recently met with Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, to talk about modern-day slavery.
“She has the ear of the president,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who attended the White House meeting with other Republican women. “She’s a young mother, she wants to help young mothers in the work force, and I think she can be a good voice here.”
Ms. Trump, 35, faces a difficult challenge as she tries to use that voice to span the deep divides between Republicans and Democrats on these issues. Republican women in Congress, who often work at the fringe of their party on federal child care matters, have still found themselves shunned by Democrats who dismiss their child care and income equality proposals as insufficient.
In the past, Ms. Trump was aligned with people like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, who currently has a bill that would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off to have babies or take care of sick members of their family. That proposal, rejected by most Republicans, would be paid for through employer payroll contribution increases.
The Trump administration’s proposal originally focused only on birth mothers and would have been paid for through savings found in the unemployment insurance program. Both parties found that plan untenable because its beneficiaries were too limited and its funding was too uncertain.
Now, Trump administration officials are contemplating a plan that would provide both mothers and fathers — adoptive and biological — with a leave that would be financed in another way, possibly through the tax increase preferred by Democrats or another option to be determined with Congress.
The administration also wants to promote dependent care savings accounts that allow up to $2,000 in tax-free contributions annually for qualified child care and elderly care expenses, with a 50 percent federal match on the first $1,000 in contributions for low-income earners.
Another plan would expand the child and dependent care credit, increasing the per-child benefit and allowing the benefit for up to four children. It would also make the credit refundable for low-income households, meaning the government would write a check for the amount beyond what a taxpayer owes in federal income taxes. An increase in the child tax credit for pre-school-age children is also under consideration. These benefits would not be available to upper-income households.
Perhaps the toughest test is changing the tax code to ease the burdens on two-income families. As Ms. Trump enters the legislative fray, she hopes to influence not only child care policies that the federal government has avoided, but also the impending debate over tax reform.
“One of the important elements of this plan revises the current tax code to eliminate the disincentive for re-entry into the work force,” Ms. Trump said.
She continued, “Women, who are disproportionately most likely to step out of the work force to provide unpaid care, often lack the ability to return to work because it can be hard to rationalize stepping back into the work force and incurring the enormous expense of child care when you are also making less than the primary earner in your home yet taxed at the highest household rate.”
American working families typically spend almost 30 percent of their after-tax income on child care, compared with 10 percent or less in many other Western nations. But the issue has not received the attention from lawmakers that high college tuition, homeownership and health care costs have gotten.
“Ivanka is putting these issues on the table,” said Mark Weinberger, the chief executive of EY, a professional services firm, and a member of Mr. Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum.
Republicans have long preferred more modest measures. Ms. Fischer, along with Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, has a child care bill that would create a tax credit for businesses that offer at least two weeks of paid family leave per year, in hourly or daily increments. That is intended to favor hourly workers.
Employers would receive a nonrefundable tax credit equal to 25 percent of what they pay employees during their leave, up to $3,000 per worker. The two have had trouble advancing the bill because of a lack of interest among Republicans and criticism from Democrats that it is too limited.
“If Republicans think they can get away with offering workers window dressing in response to huge problems like the astronomically high cost of child care or the fact that so many parents still can’t take a day to care for a sick child without losing pay, they are sorely mistaken,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington.
Republican women hope they can have a meeting of the minds with Ms. Trump.
Mr. King said Ms. Trump could be a bridge to the middle. “My interest is in getting something done that will help people,” he said. “It may not be as far as some people would like — that’s called a compromise.”
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